One port, two carriers: Liaoning and her sister carrier, Type 001A, are seen at the Dalian Shipyard in May 2018. Photo: Weibo
One port, two carriers: Liaoning and her sister carrier, Type 001A, are seen at the Dalian Shipyard in May 2018. Photo: Weibo

Buoyed by a sizable naval talent pool and ample funding, Beijing’s leaps in warship construction may see its third aircraft carrier take to the  high seas as soon as 2020.

This is the message from the Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily, after state news agency Xinhua confirmed for the first time this week that a third carrier was quickly taking shape at China State Shipbuilding Corporation’s Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai.

The recent pace of the People’s Liberation Army’s naval buildup has been formidable. Only six years ago the PLA’s fledgling carrier-based fighter squadron had its first takeoff and landing training on the force’s first carrier, the Liaoning. Since then the PLA has formed a J-15 fighter brigade and is about to commission its second carrier, the Type 001A. The new carrier will enter service as early as October 2019 to bolster Beijing’s plans for the fanfare marking of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

The third-generation PLA aircraft carrier, dubbed by the media as the Type 002, will displace more water and incorporate new designs and technologies unseen on the previous two vessels, which were based on outmoded Soviet-era configurations, noted the People’s Daily.

The third carrier’s keel is ready to be laid, according to a source close to the Chinese military.

A new, colossal flattop that dwarfs the two existing carriers is seen in a photo released but later deleted by the state-owned shipbuilder CSIC. Photo: CSIC WeChat account

The consensus among observers is that with PLA engineers having long ago overcome the relevant technical hurdles, the Type 002 will feature a “flattop” deck employing electromagnetic catapults. However, many believe that the possibility of the new carrier being nuclear-powered remains far-fetched.

Exactly when the newest seagoing airbase can cast off from Shanghai also depends on the size of Beijing’s budget for the PLA Navy in the coming years. This in turn will be influenced by how well the Chinese economy continues to grow. During ever-increasing talk of a full-on trade war with the US, plain sailing is anything but certain.

As it is, there have already been reports that the third carrier is beginning to suffer from fallout associated with the trade war with the United States.

The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported this week that work on the Type 002 had slowed because of “budget cuts” and the hefty manufacturing and maintenance costs of the J-15 carrier-based fighter.

“A shipbuilder had been scheduled to build another Type 002 carrier, the country’s fourth, in recent days but [the plan] was postponed … amid the ongoing trade war with the US,” the newspaper said.

Read more: New Chinese carrier inching closer to going into service

China may boost carrier fleet to seven by mid-2020s: expert

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